Whyyyyyy Flex Seating

I’ve been using flexible seating in my classroom for several years now. At the beginning, flexible seating was an administration requirement. Now it is a choice. An intentional choice that I have made because I believe that it is best for my students.

I fully believe in flexible seating because it allows for student agency over their learning. In my classroom, students are free to choose any table or space in the room where they would like to work. They are free to move the different types of seating around to suit their needs.

I use flexible seating because it creates the space for both collaboration and independent work. I believe that flexible seating works great for both extroverted students and introverted students. The spaces I plan for in my room are purposeful. I have both large group gathering areas, small group gathering areas, and independent spaces. I encourage students to choose they type of work environment that works for them. But I also challenge them to try collaboration when they typically work alone or to work alone when they are typically working with a partner. I also tell students that if they are not focused on the task at hand, the adults can move them to try a different space that may fit their needs.

In my classroom, the seating isn’t the only thing that is flexible. The tables and shelves are also flexible. We move the furniture in our classrooms as our needs or activities. We’ve pushed tables to the edges to open up the whole room, we’ve put tables together to make bigger tables, we’ve moved tables to provide spaces to store projects, and turn tables into stages. Our room isn’t static. It changes based on what we are doing.

None of this happens by accident. It requires training, practice, clear expectations, more training and practice, and consistency. It requires feedback from educators and peers for seats and spaces that work best for each individual student. Flexible seating requires student reflection.

Do you use flexible seating? What keeps you using it? Why do you choose flexible seating?

My Flexible Classroom Journey

About 2 years ago I moved from a traditional classroom set up to a flexible classroom. I’ve learned some things along the way and made some adjustments. I noticed that different groups access flexibility differently. I’m going to share with you my growth process for flexible seating. For reference, Year 1 and Year 2 are years that I taught kindergarten. Year 3 is the current school year and I am teaching first grade. Year 1 was the year I began BYOD as well. You can read about that here.

Year 1:

My school purchased hokki stools for each grade level. They were evenly split between the classrooms. If you’re not familiar with these, they have a rounded bottom and when you sit on them you have to use your core to balance. I got 3 hokki stools and spread them around the room for my kinders to sit in. At this point, all I had were 3 hokki stools and chairs. I made a plan for students to take turns sitting in the hokki stools. My kinders had assigned seats so I had to move the hokki stool to a different kinder’s assigned spot each day.

Once I saw the benefits of the hokki stools for some kinders, I was interested to try other things. Our school had a staff PD about flexible seating and we talked about ways we can add things to our rooms with out spending money and then we were challenged to write a grant for the PTA to fund more flexible seating options.

Free options: raise tables for students to stand at, lower tables so students have to sit on floors, old crates turned upside down are strong enough to hold littles. I had pillows and cushions in my room already so I moved them to the floor tables and put them on top of the crates so they were more comfortable. My kinders also asked if they could go under tables to work and… YES! why not?!

Things our PTA funded for us: scoop chairs, more crates, seat cushions, tall stools, and yoga balls. These were spread around the room at different tables.

I transitioned from assigned seats to home bases. My students had placemats with their name tags on them and every week, they would choose a new table spot for their home base.

I made my own basket seats with my husband with plywood, cushion, and fabric. I followed a DIY I found online. I used these instead of upside down crates with cushions. Cassidy helped! 😜

Year 2:

I had all the same furniture in my room. My big shift year 2 was to move to daily home bases. Kinders chose a new seat every day. This would be the spot they go back to for independent work time. It worked great until a kinder went home sad because he didn’t get to school early enough to have lots of choices in his seat. Mom emailed me to let me know and I developed a plan to make sure each kinder got a turn in each flexible seat type. I had a chart with each seat type across the top and all the students names listed under. Once kinders chose a spot for the day, they had to cross off their name. They couldn’t choose that seat type again until everyone had a turn. This worked fabulously!

Year 2 I also made the decision to explicitly teach each seat choice. I made an anchor chart with diagrams and labels to show how I expected my kinders to sit or stand. I also had kinders model the right way and the wrong way to use the flexible seats. This was great because the had the chance to play with the seat choices. I revisited the chart and modeling as I observed patterns of kinders using seats in unexpected ways.

Year 3:

This year I made my expectations chart with the class and had them act out the right and wrong ways to use the seat choices. I love how the anchor chart serves as a daily reminder. I no longer use name tags as home bases. I have moved to a completely flexible option. Firsties can choose a different spot each time they need to go to the tables to work. I find a lot of my firsties like to lay on a pillow with a clipboard. My centers don’t have assigned areas, firsties bring the materials they need to whichever table or seating area they want. This year I plan on using some of my morning meeting time to talk about why we have each type of seating and the type of learner it supports. “If you ___ the ___ would be a great choice for you!”

I have come to the realization that there is a difference between having flexible seating and having a flexible classroom. Flexible seating refers to the furniture in your classroom and students get to choose where they sit (daily or weekly). To me, a flexible classroom includes student choice in more than just their seat location. It includes, their choice in how to complete work (digitally or paper), what they are learning (interest driven or options), books they read (shout out to my PLN buddy Allie Bond for inspiring me to move away from leveled readers!), and more! What do you do that makes your classroom flexible ?

Blending Learning All the Ways

Blended learning doesn’t have to mean a combination of hands on and technology based learning. The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. To me blended learning balances all the things! I believe blended learning means educators are spending time providing students with hands on, emotional, self guided, outdoor, projects, technology, physical movement, and creative learning throughout the day. I give my students a lot of choice and agency during the regular school day. At the beginning of the year, I spend a lot of time talking to kids about how to make choices.

True blended learning provides and equitable learning experience for kids because you are taking care of the whole child. Educators should be getting to know their students on a personal level and providing opportunities for students based on their interests. During remote learning, I discovered on a phone call with one of my students that she has been watching “old Disney movies” a lot and one of her favorites to watch over and over is Alice in Wonderland. Because of that, I made sure that my time lesson included a white rabbit with a clock. She recognized the connection right away and even asked me if it was there for her! This tells me that my kids KNOW to look for ways the lessons I plan for them specifically connect to themselves or their friends.

Hands On

It’s no surprise that kids learn best from hands on experiences. We all use manipulatives on a daily basis. It is important for kids to build concrete understanding through manipulating hands on materials like magnetic letters or letter tiles, counters, legos, playdough, etc. These materials are always available to my students in my classroom to use throughout their day.

Emotional

In my classroom we begin each day with a morning meeting. We sit in a circle and greet each other, check in to see how we are feeling, take time to share important artifacts or stories, go over the plan for our day (especially when things vary from the ordinary), and move! I also set aside time for a a weekly community building circle in which we focus on something that came up that week or a specific topic so we can get to know each other better. We use talking pieces to take turns and have a centerpiece in our circle with important community building artifacts to remind us of past conversations or shared experiences. You can see our centerpiece below.

Self Guided

Providing students choice and agency over their learning is important to me (and them). Students already have agency but they need opportunities to practice it in a safe environment. I provide those opportunities though flexible seating, genius hour, and allowing students to choose how they respond to learning (worksheet, technology, creation). Response to learning choices aren’t always possible, but when they are I provide them.

Outdoor

I get my kids outside whenever possible! Obviously, outdoor recess is a daily occurance (weather permitting). In addition to that I take kids outside to read or to practice word work or math using sidewalk chalk. We go outside to observe our shadow, organisms, earth materials, and to collect samples. We are fortunate to have a school garden so every spring, my students take over one of the beds and plant seeds to care for.

Projects

Projects and Project Based Learning (PBL) are a great way to get student buy in to learning. PBL is multidisciplinary and allows kids to connect their learning across subjects. They practice skills and gain knowledge through real world, rigorous tasks. Kids take ownership over their work and and learning is sticky. You can check out some of the projects I’ve done with kids here.

Technology

Typically when people think about blended learning they are referring to the use of technology in the classroom. I’ve shared about my technology integration here.

Physical Movement

I incorporate movement regularly during our day through movement breaks using both guided movements and fun dances on Go Noodle. Some my favorite and quickest movements that I get kids doing are crossing the midline movements. I direct kids through touching their opposite knee and elbow. This is great because there is a lot of brain research behind having kids cross the midline. I also add yoga poses into lesson activities. This is a photo of a “scoot” activity. In a scoot activity, I put problems or tasks around the room and kids start at one and “scoot” around the room until they’ve completed all of them. They carry a recording sheet around with them on a clipboard. This is a math scoot activity where students were solving story problems that are all about fruit trees. I taught them tree pose and had several stops around the room where students needed to hold tree pose while they counted by tens to a certain number.

Creative

Allowing kids time to create is also important to their learning and development. In my classroom, I have a makerspace to allow kids to build and create during projects, centers, and soft starts (the beginning of our day).

School should be a balance of all the ways kids learn best. If there is too much of one thing, the day can be monotonous and you run the risk of not reaching all learners. Changing things up keeps the classroom fun and interesting and helps to reach every child and grow the whole child.

What else do you think is important to blend into the school day?

Book Tasting … YUMMMM!

I’m newly in love with room transformations. I’m a huge supporter of not only flexible seating but having a flexible classroom. If it’s not nailed down, I’ll move it at some point in the year! This experience was my first real dabble in a room transformation. It was fourth quarter and I was ready to try something different. I was getting tired of guided reading and regular reading partners and decided I was going to attempt student led book clubs, modeled after the literature circles I read about in Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz. I’ve seen on Pinterest and Instagram photos of teachers and school librarians turning their spaces into restaurants and having a book tasting to get kids interested in reading different types of books. I decided to use a similar process to introduce the 6 books they would get to choose from for their book clubs.

I bought:

  1. Checkered table cloths
  2. fake flowers from the dollar store
  3. chef hat

Around the school I was able to find vases and a plastic tray. I chose books that were at the benchmark reading level and a little above because that best matched the needs of my students. I used our guided reading book sets from the book room so I knew I would have multiples for each child.

I welcomed students back to the classroom dressed as Head Chef DiOrio. I invited them to taste as many books as they could.

I had students shop around the tables to see the different books I was offering for book clubs. They had to look at covers before they could get their menu to fill out.

I provided each student with a menu to fill out the information about their top 3 book choices.

click image for document
Look at that tongue!

They worked so hard to give me feedback. I played some instrumental cafe music as they did they sneak peeks. I love Vitamin String Quartet for things like this because the music is familiar yet calm. I told students that they needed to give me clear reasons why they wanted certain books. “I like it” or “It is interesting” weren’t enough to convince me.

I hid sealed envelopes with kids’ names on them as a special “reveal” for book clubs.

Inside each envelope was a colored card.

The colored card revealed the book they would read for book clubs.

We spent a week in book clubs reading the books multiple times together and independently with different purposes: characters, setting, problem and solution, lesson learned, and authors purpose (RL1.1, RL1.2, RL1.3, RL1.6 RL1.7, RL1.10). Students responded to their reading in their reading notebooks.

We of course had to celebrate the time spent really getting to know these books!

There’s no better way to do tho that than with food (obviously).

Readers read their favorite parts, shared what they learned, asked and answered questions about the books, and compared and contrasted the stories while we ate (RL1.1, RL1.2, RL1.3, RL1.5, RL1.9).

The conversations were so natural and the students absolutely enjoyed every minute. They were always on topic. It almost felt wrong to use these conversations as an assessment but I learned so much from my readers while they talked. This was the most realistic assessment they may ever have.

This was a memorable experience for both the students and myself and it was tightly tied into the standards I am required to teach in first grade. The photos above are from 2 years ago but I did it again last year and plan to do it again this year! A book tasting is a really light lift when it comes to room transformations. I am really excited to try more and bigger room transformations as I learn more about innovative teaching practices and integrating my curriculum.

Tell me all about your room transformation s and ways you have integrated your curriculum!

For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood… and the Rest of Y’all Too Book Study Reflection

Why I chose this book

I read this book because it had been recommended so many times by so many people that I trust. As a white woman, I was looking for a book I could read to help me understand the perspective of my black and brown students. I wanted some introductory information on restorative practices (which are similar to the cyphers discussed in the book) in school. I knew this book was more about high school students but I knew I could find ways to apply it to my work in the elementary classroom. Since it was highly recommended, I just knew I would learn a lot.

Major take aways

I loved that Chris Edmin shared mistakes he made after first getting into the classroom. I learn a lot from mistakes, my mistakes and the mistakes of others. He refers to students in urban schools as neoindigenous. Too often the educators who work in urban schools come from outside the community and don’t spend enough time in the community and the students are the ones who are native and know the culture of their neighborhood. Educators have a lot to learn from their students. He invested the time learning about, from, and with his students. I spend a lot of time and effort building relationships to learn about my students. I would love to incorporate more ways to learn from and with my students.

As a white woman, it is important for me to unpack my privilege and fully understand that my own history impacts the way I show up at school and interact with my students. I struggled with this at first. I didn’t want to see that I brought privilege into my work with my students. But I know that I do. Confronting my privilege made me realize that I can be myself but also learn to see and value my students’ experiences. This book talked a lot about seeing life experiences from different perspectives. The work is in asking questions to understand other’s perspective.

Understanding my privilege is one thing, but I need to ensure that I’m making real connections with my students. I can do that through telling stories about my life and listening to their stories. I loved the chapters “Coteaching” and “Cosmopolitanism” which were about creating a classroom culture of collaboration and shared celebration.

As I was reading this book, I couldn’t help but make so many connections to the work that NCAE is doing right now. Edmin talked a lot about how urban areas get a lot of charter schools coming in and trying to fix the kids and the neighborhood but that isn’t what they need. This work can and should be done by public schools. If you’re in North Carolina, interested in or are currently doing this work, and you aren’t a member of NCAE yet, I highly recommend you do your research and join!

Making it accessible for Littles

While this book was a lot more self work that direct application to my classroom, I believe that the work I’m doing will impact my students.

I particularly liked the chapter “Chuuuurch” because I made so many connections to my own classroom. Edmin explains how we should make our classrooms more like black churches. Kids should sit where they want and should be able to respond as desired. In my classroom, I use flexible seating because I believe it is best for kids. I’m also flexible on the whole raise your hand to speak thing. One of my class rules is one voice because I believe it is important for people to not speak over each other and to focus on the person who is talking. But, I try to keep my classroom conversational.

In the book Edmin talks about call and response and movement being essential to neoindigeneous youth. I have been trying to incorporate more of this in my classroom lately and I noticed that littles really love it when I do!

The book study PLN

Reading this book and having conversations about it with others who were also reading it helped me understand what I was reading and better apply it as I work to improve myself. It was nice to have face to face conversations with people who are nearby and looking to incorporate restorative practices with their students. I also participated in video chat conversations with people from across my state. I believe the most important part of social justice work is finding others who are doing the work too. We must build strength together in order to continue to grow.

Student Choice and Reading

I believe that student choice is important for lots of reasons. Student choice helps build relationships and trust. Students take ownership over their learning when they know they get a say. Students can make personal connections to the content through choices. Learning is “sticky” and memorable when students have voice and choice. Kids like having a choice. But, today I want to focus on student choice during reading instruction.

I teach reading in a workshop model with a mini lesson, call to action, conferencing, and small group instruction. Conferencing with students and small group instruction happen while students are independently reading. My mini lesson and call to action are whole group instruction. At this time, I make a connection, state a strategy, model the strategy, then ask students to try it when they get to their book boxes.

I give students full agency over the books they have in their book box. I have 2 rules: Students should have 10 books. They should have a variety of books. Students are assigned a day of the week for their independent book shopping. When students go book shopping, they have the choice to keep as many books as they want and trade as many books as they want as long as they keep 10 books. I teach several lessons about selecting a good variety of books ranging from: fiction vs nonfiction, finding books on similar topics (all books have bears but are different types of books), choosing books on topics they don’t think they like, making book recommendations and using them to choose books, leveled vs. non-leveled books, etc.

My classroom library is very organized. I have leveled books, theme books, author books, non fiction collections, chapter books, seasonal books, etc. I teach students how to put the books back so they stay organized and one of our classroom jobs is the classroom library helper. Last year, I purchased these dot stickers on amazon and I use them to label my personal books into their theme bins. I do have leveled books that belong to the school and those stay in the labeled leveled bins. I personally like to keep my books completely separate from the school owned books. Students have free choice to choose from leveled bins and theme bins. Choosing some leveled books is part of having a variety of books. However – I. 👏 Never. 👏 Tell. 👏 Students. 👏 Which. 👏 Bins. 👏 To. 👏 Select. 👏 Their. 👏 Books. 👏 From. 🙌

My quick thoughts on leveled books: Books have reading levels and can be categorized in that way. Children are not leveled and should not be categorized in that way. period

I have a flexible classroom and have blogged about it here and here. Flexible seating also applies to independent reading time. Students can read any where they want: under tables, at a table, on a pillow, on any flexible seat, on the floor, in any position they choose. As long as students are spread out, safe, and comfortable. They can be anywhere that works for them. This doesn’t happen by mistake or magic. It takes a lot of teaching, practice, praise, reinforcement, and modeling to make it work.

My students take our reading time seriously. It is important to them that they choose a spot where they can focus on their books and not their friends and they take some serious time selecting books for their book boxes. While I don’t believe that students should be leveled, my reading assessment data has proven that giving students voice and choice is beneficial to their growth as readers. At the end of last school year (2018-19) 100% of my students met proficiency or better. 2 readers even grew from exhibiting reading behaviors to decoding and comprehending a level I and K book.

An amazing thing happened today (7/17/19)

Learn Like a Pirate

Why I chose this book

I chose this book because I was interested in shifting from a student-centered classroom to a student-led classroom.

Major takeaways

First off, I loved the Easter eggs in this book! The author, Paul Solarz, included additional content throughout the book using QR codes to his blog posts and documents he created that support the chapter. I felt like I hit the jackpot each time I scanned one of those things! I couldn’t get enough!

I am laying off the jobs and turning up classroom responsibilities. After reading this book, my class was charged with the responsibility of answering the phone and relaying messages, running morning meeting, running math routines, and changing the calendar and schedule. I wanted to get rid of classroom jobs altogether, but my firsties were up in arms and did not want those assigned jobs to go away. Instead, I let kids choose their jobs each week.

We had major conversations about growing as leaders in our classroom. When the kids were in charge, I would sit and wait for them to move things along rather than moving it along myself. This was awkward and uncomfortable at times because I would just sit and wait. Once they realized what needed to be done, 4-19 kids would jump up at once to do it. We had to talk about the difference between active leadership and passive leadership. I needed to explain that if someone gets up to do something, let them be the leader. You can be a passive leader by allowing them their turn.

Chapter 3 was all about collaboration. He talked about setting up your space to encourage collaboration which includes flexibility with furniture. This section challenged my thinking about flexible seating. The chairs and seating options shouldn’t be the only thing that’s flexible in your classrooms. Tables can move too. Kids should have the agency to decide when and where furniture needs to move to support their learning. This paradigm shift inspired me to write the post From Makerspace to Maker-Classroom.

After reading chapter 5, I tried my first literature circle with the support of our literacy coach Jessica VonDerHeide. We chose a book and introduced roles to a reading group and used the roles to help focus conversations about the book. Then, I decided to try this with the whole class and let them choose their books. The boys in the first group became the leaders and help to teach the roles. I made sure they were all in different groups so they could help to train the others. This worked so well, we did it twice before the end of the school year!

       

The 34 skills listed on page 180-191 are the skills I am now using to set goals for my students, PBLs, and other learning experiences.

Making it accessible for Littles

“Start small. Give your students simple jobs.” – Paul Solarz, page 20. This right here makes everything in this book accessible to littles. Pick one or 2 things then gradually release more and more as they are ready for it.

Paul talks about giving students the power of “Give me 5.” This is something I am going to do with my students this new school year. So many times littles come up to the teacher to ask a simple question that other kids might know the answer to. I would love my firsties to say, “Give me 5” then ask their question to seek clarification or get help. Teachers don’t always need to be the one with all the information or the one to jump in and save the day.

Littles naturally look for ways to improve. In chapter 4, Paul talks about portfolios and feedback. My students use Seesaw as a digital portfolio to collect their work. They leave each other comments on work as feedback. I ask them to focus their comments to glows and grows, say something kind, say something helpful, or ask a question. Focusing their thoughts and giving them sentence starters can really support littles in providing peer feedback.

The book study PLN

Caitlin McCommons and I wanted to lead a book study because we both love to read professional books but we’re both social and like to bounce our learning off of others. So we decided to launch our first digital book study using this book. We reached out to our PTA who was able to help supply some books to 6 lucky teachers! We gathered staff from our school and a school across our district who were interested in learning and growing with us. We decided to use Flipgrid as a platform for discussion because it simulates a face to face discussion but is much more flexible! You can check out our learning here: Also, feel free to add to it! We’ll never close it!

https://flipgrid.com/b39zdb?embed=true

We’ll also be launching a new book study in September so watch Twitter for the announcement!

If you’ve read this book I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways! Please share in the comments below!

Beginning of the Year Must-Dos to Set up for Success with #innovate4littles

I don’t know about you but my first week of school plans look more like a to-do list than actual lessons. I find it really important to set the stage for the year with strong routines and procedures (obviously). My first week of school tends to give students a little taste of some of the big things will do throughout the year but also needs to be very strict with high expectations.

I teach at a year-round school in North Carolina so we just finished our third week of school. While others are just starting to wind down their summer breaks, we are in full gear! I thought this might be great timing to share how I like to begin my school year. Some of the activities below are completed during the first week and some within the first month.

Team Building

During the first week of school, I find it really necessary to complete some challenging or nearly impossible team building activity. You want the kids to work together to complete something that is really hard. This year we did a cup stacking activity. I started out simple and then added constraints to make it more and more difficult until I found their breaking point. I split my class into groups of 4. First, they were allowed to all stack the cups together however they wanted. The teams did great but all the stacks looked the same.

So I added constraints. I watched the groups closely during their first stacking experience. I identified that one kid who was not participating in each group. They were now the group leaders. Only the group leader was allowed to touch the cups the other group members could help by giving ideas and talking to them, but they could NOT touch the cups. Once they got started there was a chorus of, “this isn’t fair!” And then came the cacophony! Everyone and I mean EVERYONE, started shouting directions at the same time. I stopped the stack and had them come to the carpet to discuss what just happened. We talked about fairness and including every person in a group to work together. We talked about how in a group sometimes everyone has a different role or job. Then we stacked again. This time, everyone was allowed to touch the cups but no one was allowed to talk. They quickly realized they couldn’t collaborate without communicating. For the last stack, students weren’t allowed to touch the cups with their hands but they could use pipe cleaners and rubber bands to help. I showed a video of how some kids used these tools to help stack the cups. One group asked if they had to do it that way or if they could try another way. Of course, they could try whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t use their hands. The only group to successfully stack all of their cups was the group who tried something different. They begged to do this activity again, so I added it to our math stations for the next 2 weeks. They got quite good at it after some practice!

Flexible Seating

I’ve written about my flexible seating journey before. It is so very necessary to teach flexible seating explicitly. State your expectations. Ask volunteers to model the correct way and incorrect way. Explain these rules are for safety and fairness. And let them know that if they don’t make smart seating choices, I make the choice for them. Then we play a game. We play musical chairs with the flexible seating to get students a chance to practice and MOVE!

Roll out the Technology

We have a hodge-podge mix of technology at my school. We finally got rid of all of our desktop computers but we still have some old laptops, new laptops, older iPads and newer iPads, and BRAND SPAKING NEW CHROMEBOOKS! Kids need to grow their flexibility with devices. I introduce devices with a mixture of small group and whole group depending on the number of devices I can get my hands on. We do a number of independent and collaborative grouping activities on devices during the first weeks of school to allow practice and peer coaching. We also use BYOD at my school and I try to roll that out ASAP! With chromebooks, I’m only able to get a group of 6 kids on at once so that’s what I did. I had them practice logging in and logging out and that is all on the VERY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL!

I can teach iPads with 1:1 devices. I like to start with chatterpix because it is intuitive and easy to use. Plus, its super cute and parents love it! I model using chatterpix to make a David craft talk and then how to save and upload it to seesaw. (AppSmashing the first week of school!) Then I allow them time to practice with 4 more crafts and chatterpix/seesaw activities. We also do a quick partner kahoot to help kids get used to sharing a device. I usually choose a math kahoot to start with.

Bucket Lists

It is so important to let kids know their ideas and opinions are important to the way my classroom runs. I try to get quick feedback daily with thumbs up thumbs down to see if they like or don’t like something we did. The first day of school, I give out a bucket list where I like to collect ideas about what my group likes to do and wants to try or learn. I make my own bucket list to pique their interest. My bucket list includes 3 act math, break out boxes and rooms (we’ll do our first one in week 4), badges, technology, PBL, coding, makerspaceSTREAM, room transformations, genius hour, and more. I like to try to list things they don’t know so they get excited and ask questions. I also collect lists of books they love and things they want to read about. This helps me plan my classroom library (I don’t put out all of my books at once. I put out my favorites to start then change them out. I try to always have at least 1 bin of their favorites and 1 that might be brand new).

Along the same line, I teach the morning routine without our STREAM centers. I try to get them very independent with taking out their folder, hanging up their bookbag and signing in before they can make STREAM choices. If this isn’t strong, they will forget to do these important procedures so they can go play.

Active Listening

Last year I taught active listening skills in the third quarter. This year, I taught them the second week. We talk about and make an anchor chart for what active listening looks like, sounds like, and feels like. Then I watch for signs of active listening and take pictures. These pictures go on the anchor chart. Now, rather than telling kids to stop talking, I ask them if they are actively listening.

Growth Mindset

We talk about the importance of making learning mistakes, the powerful word YET, and growing our brain muscles. I love using the books Ish and Giraffes Can’t Dance to teach growth mindset. We also watch the big ideas on Growth Mindset in Class Dojo. I over celebrate mistakes to help kids feel safe taking risks and getting things wrong the first try.

Up Next…

This upcoming week we will do our first Google Classroom activity (google draw the setting of a favorite book), introduce BYOD, dive deep into independent centers and choices (most of which are tied to literacy standards), have a break out room (math- counting efficiently), and try our first reader’s theater (social studies- rules and citizenship) (hopefully with a Facebook live event).

Now that we are past the beginning of the year “stuff,” things become more closely tied to standards. A lot of my to-do list for the beginning of the year is not all standards-based but it does help us build a strong classroom community and set us up for trying new things throughout the year. What are your must-dos to start the year?